Syrian airstrikes in eastern Ghouta reportedly kill 27 civilians

Remnants of improvised ground-launched rockets with suspected chlorine-filled heads

Remnants of improvised ground-launched rockets with suspected chlorine-filled heads

The Syrian army and allies have intensified shelling and air raids on the town of Douma making advances against militants in their last stronghold in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.

Jaysh al-Islam members have resumed attacks against governmental forces in the city of Douma after new leaders seized power in the group, Head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties (part of Defense Ministry) Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko said on Saturday.

"Jaish al-Islam terrorists are in a state of collapse and their media outlets are (making) chemical attack fabrications in an exposed and failed attempt to obstruct advances by the Syrian Arab army", state news agency SANA reported, citing an official source.

The Army of Islam has never publicly confirmed the agreement, and is said to be divided on whether to leave Douma, with hard-liners wanting to stay and fight. The Observatory says the attack has killed more than 1,600 civilians. A ground assault then sliced the area into three isolated pockets, each held by different rebel factions.

Regime forces have captured almost all of Ghouta with a combination of ferocious bombing raids, which started on February 18, and negotiated withdrawals. Other rebel groups agreed to relocate to the north after a Russia-backed government offensive in February and March that killed hundreds of people and caused catastrophic destruction.

A total of 2,963 militants and their families evacuated Douma in three batches over the past few days under a deal concluded between the Islam Army and the Syrian government forces under a Russian mediation.

A week long ceasefire had been in place while Jaish al-Islam held talks on the possible withdrawal from Douma.

The group appears to have little leverage however to face the regime's recovered might, and the latest strikes raised fears of a brutal end to the five-year-old siege of Eastern Ghouta.

The regime has used a combination of fierce bombardment and two negotiated withdrawals to empty out 95 percent of the enclave but rebels are still entrenched in the largest town of Douma.

People look at the damage in the aftermath of an explosion in a rebel-held area of the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on January 8, 2018. Nearly half of them are staying with relatives or friends, while the others are living in makeshift shelters.

A commander in the regional military alliance that backs Assad said Jaish al-Islam's only option was to accept safe passage to rebel-held areas northeast of Aleppo as talks overseen by Russian Federation had collapsed.

It remains unclear exactly why the talks between Moscow and Jaish al-Islam have faltered.

Douma-based media activist Haitham Bakkar also said that 25 people were killed in the airstrikes and shelling that hit the town.

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